Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage
Director: Michael Cimino
Running Time: 184 mins
The Deer Hunter is an American film about three Pennsylvania steelworkers, whose lives are forever changed by their experiences while fighting in the Vietnam War.
Without doubt one of the most poignant and moving films I’ve ever seen, The Deer Hunter is a powerfully perceptive look at the destructive effects of war, taking an understated, small-scale story and demonstrating how even the most tightly-knit communities can be ripped apart by conflict.
Complete with pitch-perfect directing, natural and insightful dialogue, and above all an incredible ensemble cast, The Deer Hunter is utterly enthralling for every one of its 184 minutes. It may be long, and it may be slow, but the film is so rich in challenging emotional depth that it’s impossible to get bored.
Now, many films have used the Vietnam War to comment on the negative side of war, from the unjust occupation and destruction of a foreign land to the lifelong psychological effects on servicemen who return home, never to be the same again.
However, while the likes of Full Metal Jacket and Born On The Fourth Of July blend devastating drama with high-stakes action, The Deer Hunter is all the more understated, with the actual conflict in Vietnam far from the main part of its story.
After all, this film spends over an hour in a small Pennsylvania mining town before landing in Vietnam, as we watch a group of friends spend their last days together before three go off to fight.
It might not sound like much, but that first act is arguably the greatest part of The Deer Hunter. Portraying a blissful innocence and peace in the last hours before our characters experience the horrors of war, it’s both touching and upsetting, as you watch them enjoying their last moments together in the knowledge of what fate awaits them.
The chemistry of the ensemble cast only adds to the strength of the characters’ bond, and only serves to make the breaking of that bond all the more devastating to witness. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage are stunning in the lead roles, while Meryl Streep, John Cazale and more are also hugely impressive in supporting positions.
Complete with a screenplay that prioritises deep, resonant emotion and natural, perceptive dialogue, The Deer Hunter is such a genuine presentation of the long-lasting effects of war, as we watch a once tight-knit group of friends heartbreakingly torn apart.
However, the film never strays into melodrama, instead maintaining a slow and quiet atmosphere that allows the main themes to come to the fore in everything that’s unsaid. Some characters cope with the after effects of war better than others, but all have paid a price – whether or not they went off to fight themselves.
In that, we see a wide range of experiences, emotions and realities of how war can change and devastate a life, culminating in a heartbreaking and powerfully poignant finale that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Yet while The Deer Hunter is certainly a hard-hitting and heavy-going film, it’s not an overwhelmingly depressing watch either. Director Michael Cimino not only does well to keep its drama understated, but he also manages to combine the story’s most devastating ideas with the lighter, more hopeful moments in life.
As a result, the film is able to tap into a part of your heart that few movies ever get near.
Yes, The Deer Hunter is a heavy watch, and it certainly doesn’t pull its punches with some of its most challenging themes, but with a wonderful ensemble cast, brief and fleeting moments of humour and blissful innocence, and a powerfully perceptive and genuine approach to its subject matter, it’s a deeply touching film too. So, that’s why I’m giving The Deer Hunter an 8.7 overall.